NOVEMBER 6 — Every 90s Malaysian kid would have at least heard financial speculator George Soros’ name once in their lives; usually said with such hatred as if he was Satan himself.
Our impression of Soros was that of a crooked Jew hell-bent on destroying Muslims and responsible for ruining the lives of many Malaysians following the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
This can mostly be blamed on former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad whose anti-Semitic feelings is hardly a secret. Even as recent as June this year, the veteran statesman still insisted — in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan — that “Jews are ruling the world by proxy.”
Back in 1997, Dr Mahathir had the perfect scapegoat in Soros. According to Dr Mahathir, Soros had used his wealth to destabilise South-east Asian currencies to punish Asean for accepting Myanmar, then still under the rule of military junta.
After all, Soros’ Open Society Foundations (OSF; then Open Society Institute) was promoting democracy in the strife-torn country.
“We do not want to say that this is a plot by the Jews, but in reality it is a Jew who triggered the currency plunge, and coincidentally Soros is a Jew.
“It is also a coincidence that the Malaysians are mostly Muslim. Indeed, the Jews are not happy to see Muslims progress,” Dr Mahathir was reported saying.
The Malaysian media picked that up and ran with the anti-Semitic angle.
It is ironic when you consider how un-Jewish Soros can be, despite his Jewish background.
Born György Schwartz in Budapest, his family had survived Nazi rule in Hungary by pretending they were Christians. The family reportedly changed their surname to Soros in order to dissociate themselves from the Jewish community, before later moving to the United States.
In an unauthorised biography, Soros was quoted admitting that he had grown up in a Jewish but “anti-Semitic home”, while his parents were “uncomfortable with their religious roots.”
In recent years, Soros has even been quoted accusing Jews themselves of being partly responsible for anti-Semitism because of their “tribalness”, and also criticising US and Israel’s foreign policies. Perhaps, there is not much difference between Dr Mahathir and Soros after all.
OSF has also been accused of funding anti-Israel groups, such as supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, in addition to claims that it is part of a movement to delegitimise Israel.
As for the 1997 financial crisis? Dr Mahathir finally met Soros for the first time in a Kuala Lumpur hotel in December 2006, where they apparently buried the hatchet.
“Soros said he was not personally involved in the devaluing of the Malaysian currency and that the devaluing was done by other traders. I have accepted that,” Dr Mahathir told reporters in a joint press conference later.
They talked about the Israel-Palestinian crisis. Of war and peace. You would think that Malaysia’s grudge against Soros ended there and then.
Yet, a decade later, Soros has again been unearthed as the bogeyman who wishes to destroy this country by toppling its legitimately elected administration.
A document detailing OSF’s Malaysia Programme was highlighted in the local media last week, nearly three months after it was revealed by hacktivists DC Leaks which has been linked to Russian intelligence agency GRU.
The revelation has forced several groups to admit that they have indeed received funding from OSF. Not that there is anything explicitly illegal about that, according to lawyers polled by Malay Mail Online.
Of those named in the document, news outfit Malaysiakini admitted to receiving an OSF grant to produce the “Realiti Sarawak” and “Sekilas Bumi Kenyalang” programmes by its video arm, KiniTV.
Polls reform group Bersih 2.0 admitted it received RM90,000 from OSF, although it has not received any more funds since mid-2011.
The Bar Council said it received US$15,000 from OSF as a grant for the research study on migrant workers in Malaysia.
Other groups accused of getting funding from OSF were C4 Malaysia, Empower, the Islamic Renaissance Front, Merdeka Center, Penang Institute, Suaram, Citizen Journalists Malaysia Sabah and the Committee For Free Elections.
OSF itself has admitted that it provided funding of US$700,000 (RM2.9 million) a year to non-partisan Malaysian NGOs for over a decade, to promote public health, foster fair migration policies and encourage the civic and political participation of all Malaysian citizens.
While the Malaysian media has grown more mature and mostly stayed away from anti-Semitic accusations linked to OSF funding, that has not stopped the grassroots, especially in social media, from doing so.
Among others, an infographic has been circulated alleging the seven steps Soros is said to be taking to topple the Malaysian government, with the familiar slant of Jewish domination.
The graphic claims that Soros plans to produce a shadow government and control the media, before stoking public anger and sowing chaos. Soros would then engineer an election crisis, eventually taking over power and maintaining his grip over a puppet government.
Viewed objectively, this is of course absurd and far-fetched but rationality is hard to come by in an increasingly polarised and sectarian Malaysia as it heads into a racialised and Islamised 14th general elections.
Add to that the conspiracy theory that Jews are trying to take over the world through a new World Order — a particular favourite of the Malay-Muslim community — it is enough to understand how such a revelation would spark panic and fear.
Whichever way this Second Coming of Soros turns out, one thing is apparent: Malaysia’s civil society that has been flourishing with rising political awareness and greater access to resources over the past few years will be severely impacted.
It looks like as long as Soros lives, Malaysia has its perfect nemesis.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.